Thursday, June 13, 2013

Last Day, Last Cycle

They walked out of the center, smiles bursting from their faces, calling goodbye to everyone they passed. I felt blessed to be a witness to the scene. I was so happy for her, I could cry. I won't lie, I wish it were me. I would have been walking on clouds, too.

I thought back to the first time I saw them. We crossed paths three times that day. First in the waiting room, then in the examination room and finally in the infusion center. They had the appointment before me. As a result, I sat in my room much longer than normal, Dr. Liang coming in a rush apologizing for being so late. A first consult, he explained, the couple had a lot of questions.

I remembered my first consult. Mom, dad, and Barbara came with me.  We asked a lot of questions. After a while, Dr. Yee kept looking anxiously at his watch and tried graciously to wrap it up. That's when we learned that the allotted time for the doctor visit was a mere twenty minutes. Not enough for a first time visit when fear is just as bad as the cancer itself and the only thing you want is answers to your questions, all 10,000 of them.

Later, in the infusion center, the couple was brought to the chair next to me. Even if I hadn't seen them in the examination room ahead of me, I would have suspected from the way they walked to the chair that they were first-timers. It's always the tentative, unsure walk and the look on the faces that gives it away. As she sat in the chair, I was touched by his attentiveness to her. It was obvious he took his job watching over her very seriously.

During the accessing of one's port or other procedures, the nurses draw the curtains closed as part of their process. When the procedure is finished, they always ask if you want curtains open or closed. Most patients opt for open. Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing you are not alone, perhaps its the community we feel with each other, whatever the reason, most opt to have the curtain open. They opted to have it closed.

That was six months ago. I would see them every now and then and we would smile in encouragement at one another as most of us always do, their curtains no longer kept drawn throughout the entire infusion. He still as attentive, she, brave and courageous, even though the chemo while doing its job was wiping her out.

Today, I was seating at infusion chair 18. It's in a cozy little nook in the center, just one chair to the left, no one to the right of me. Within moments, Tammy was there getting me prepped for my meds. Shortly thereafter, they were being shown to seat 19. We smiled at each other, saying "hello" as they settled in.

The gentleman, no longer a novice, wandered around as they waited for Tammy to tend to his wife, saying hello to the nurses, asking questions. His energy level was high. As I had not sat close to them since the first time, I wasn't aware that he was so gregarious. She, too, was all smiles. He kept talking excitedly to the nurse, asking questions about other nurses, such as last names, writing them down on a piece of paper as she recited them off.

He ran off in search of someone, when his wife called out to me, "Hi Neighbor". I smiled over at her, "hi neighbor!" And for the first time, we began to talk. That's when I learned, she was on her last day of her last cycle. I remember that December day, three years ago, when I sat there, both smiling and crying that it was finally over. My smile grew. We talked a bit more and then Brie came bringing my lunch and I smiled even more.

Her husband came back and they told me that they were writing Kaiser to let them know how wonderful the nurses, angels they called them, were throughout this whole time. Yes, absolutely, without a doubt, they make a big difference in the place. Professional, but kind, understanding, gentle and caring.

As I was finishing my meal, her infusion was finished. Her time, for now, hopefully forever, at the infusion center had come to an end. They walked out together, stronger, more seemingly in love. It was a beautiful thing to be a witness too. I shall never forget.

As they passed by me, the woman and I smiled at one other. "I wish you luck", she said to me. "I wish you well", I replied back. I hope I never see her in the infusion center again.

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